By Duncan Mlanjira
Morocco’s French coach Herve Renard, who won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire, ranking as the first coach in African history to win the African title with two different teams, now hopes for another unprecedented piece of history with Morocco’s Atlas Lions for a third continental crown with a side that has not won the title since 1976.
Renard produced one of the most scintillating results ever leading Zambia to the 2012 crown with a penalty shoot-out victory over Cote d’Ivoire and three years later, he turned the Ivorians tears from 2012 into chants of jubilation when he led them to the title with another post-match penalties conquest, this time over Ghana’s Black Stars.
With Renard, Morocco reached the quarterfinal of the 2017 showpiece losing 0-1 to Egypt and can he and the Atlas Lions dream of quenching a 43-year old thirst?
“I don’t know,” he told cafonline.com. “Everything is possible in football but first we have to look at our opening game which is the most important, then step by step. We have a tough group and it will be very important to come to Egypt with an ambition of respect all our opponents.”
Interestingly, Morocco are in Group C with Renard’s former employers Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa and Namibia.
“We are in a very tough group and we need to come in here very concentrated. We have to be ready from the first game to get a good result which will give us some confidence going forward,” he added.
The 50-year old will be counting on the experience from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia where despite bowing out in the group stages, the Atlas Lions gave encouraging performances.
They finished bottom of the group after 0-1 losses to Iran and Portugal and drew 2-2 with Spain who equalized in the final minute of added time.
“This experience will be very important because we played very good football. Though we didn’t get the result we wanted, all Moroccans were proud of their team. Now, we have to make them very happy again in Egypt,” stated the coach.
“We are coming in with an ambition and if you come with an ambition you have to beat everyone. We have a very good team and we need to believe in ourselves.”
Renard believes going through to the final will be tougher this time especially with the expansion of the tournament to 24 teams.
“The expansion makes it more difficult because there is one more round to play and the teams are more ambitious. But we are hoping to go very far in this tournament.”
Morocco topped their qualification group ahead of Cameroon with both sides picking 11 points with identical three wins, two draws and a loss from group B. The only loss they suffered was against each other, Cameroon winning the first leg (1-0) and Morocco winning the return tie (2-0).
Based in Cairo, Morocco will kick off their campaign against Namibia on June 23 at the Al Salam Stadium before playing Cote d’Ivoire five days later and South Africa on July 1 all at the same venue.